Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE IMAGE BOY, by JAMES SMITH (1775-1839)



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE IMAGE BOY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Whoe'er has trudged, on frequent feet
Last Line: "and his, poor boy, are on it!"
Subject(s): London; Memory; Mythology; Poetry & Poets


WHOE'ER has trudged, on frequent feet,
From Charing Cross to Ludgate-street,
That haunt of noise and wrangle,
Has seen, on journeying through the Strand,
A foreign Image-vender stand
Near Somerset quadrangle.

His coal-black eye, his balanced walk,
His sable apron, white with chalk,
His listless meditation,
His curly locks, his sallow cheeks,
His board of celebrated Greeks,
Proclaim his trade and nation.

Not on that board, as erst, are seen
A tawdry troop; our gracious Queen
With tresses like a carrot.
A milk-maid with a pea-green pail,
A poodle with a golden tail,
John Wesley, and a parrot; --

No; far more classic is his stock;
With ducal Arthur, Milton, Locke,
He bears, unconscious roamer,
Alcmena's Jove-begotten Son,
Cold Abelard's too tepid nun,
And pass-supported Homer.

See yonder bust adorned with curls;
'Tis hers, the Queen who melted pearls
Marc Antony to wheedle.
Her bark, her banquets, all are fled;
And Time, who cut her vital thread,
Has only spared her Needle.

Stern Neptune, with his triple prong,
Childe Harold, peer of peerless song,
So frolic Fortune wills it,
Stand next the Son of crazy Paul,
Who hugged the intrusive King of Gaul
Upon a raft at Tilsit.

"Poor vagrant child of want and toil!
The sun that warms thy native soil
Has ripened not thy knowledge;
'Tis obvious, from that vacant air,
Though Padua gave thee birth, thou ne'er
Didst graduate in her College.

"'Tis true thou nam'st thy motley freight;
But from what source their birth they date,
Mythology or history,
Old records, or the dreams of youth,
Dark fable, or transparent truth,
Is all to thee a mystery.

"Come tell me, Vagrant, in a breath,
Alcides' birth, his life, his death,
Recount his dozen labours:
Homer thou know'st; but of the woes
Of Troy thou'rt ignorant as those
Dark Orange-boys thy neighbours."

'Twas thus, erect, I deigned to pour
My shower of lordly pity o'er
The poor Italian wittol,
As men are apt to do to show
Their vantage-ground o'er those who know
Just less than their own little.

When lo, methought Prometheus' flame
Waved o'er a bust of deathless fame,
And woke to life Childe Harold:
The Bard aroused me from my dream
Of pity, alias self-esteem,
And thus indignant carolled:

"O thou, who thus, in numbers pert
And petulant, presum'st to flirt
With Memory's Nine Daughters:
Whose verse the next trade-winds that blow
Down narrow Paternoster-row
Shall whelm in Lethe's waters:

"Slight is the difference I see
Between yon Paduan youth and thee;
He moulds, of Paris plaster,
An urn by classic Chantrey's laws --
And thou a literary vase
Of would-be alabaster.

"Were I to arbitrate betwixt
His terra cotta, plain or mixed,
And thy earth-gendered sonnet,
Small cause has he th' award to dread: --
Thy images are in the head,
And his, poor boy, are on it!"





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